Friday, February 5, 2016

The Great American Dog Swap....

I've been wanting to write this story for a while, but it's a very emotional topic and I've been afraid I would tell it wrong.  But my wonderful sister-in-love Brenda recently said she'd like to hear about it, so I'm going to give it a try.

For most of our married life, Chris and I have had dogs that were medium to large in size and had some watch dog tendencies.  Three years ago the last of our "big" dogs, Dazzle the Standard Poodle, was nearing the end of her long and happy life.  This left us with 3 small dogs, two Pugs, and one wee Toy Poodle.  Nothing that would give a burglar or a coyote any pause.  Chris was putting the pressure on for me to find another dog that would at least appear to be a bit fierce.

My excellent friend Marion has a pair of Cur's.  Wonderful dogs, good at guarding the property, helpful with the livestock, trustworthy even with baby chicks, and all around good fun.  I told her I was beginning to look for a dog that would be good at keeping an eye on things around our place, with her help, 30 minutes later a man called me and told me he had two 6 month old Cur puppies, and would happily bring them to me so we could see how they acted around my horse, goats and poultry.  He did just that, and when he left he only had one dog with him.  We added Ziva to the house.  I loved the look of her, and wow!  She was paws down the smartest dog I have ever had.

As she matured, she showed her excellent qualities.  She would help mama goats clean off newborn kids, and play with those kids when they were older.  She was totally gentle with the chickens and ducks.  However, she very much wanted to kill Flirt and Smooch, the small dogs in residence. And, after I opened a grooming studio here at home, she took it upon herself to want to dispatch every dog and cat that came here.  Soon I had gates up and doors shut, keeping small dogs and Ziva apart.  It was not a restful atmosphere. In fact, things were very tense.

This went on for three years.  Then late last summer Marion and I, with her two Curs and my one, went kayaking.  The dogs alternated between swimming along with us down the lovely river, and running along the bank.  At one point, Marion said, "I've toyed with the idea of getting another Cur."  I said, "You should take Ziva."  Surprised, she said, "You LOVE Ziva."  I did. I still do, but living with her, my small dogs and my grooming business was a juggling act.  And let's be clear, I'm just not a very good dog trainer. I mean well. I try, but it is not my best thing.  Marion said no more.

A few days later she and her husband came over for supper.  She took me aside.  "I don't want to have 4 dogs," she said.  "But if you take Dutchess, I'll take Ziva."  Dutchess is an older Golden Retriever.  Perfectly trained, and as sweet a dog as any I have ever met.  Ziva had just completed a pretty good week... she hadn't attacked anyone!  I was grateful for my friends offer, but giving up my beautiful, precious, smart dog and taking in an older Golden seemed an unlikely plan. I had high hopes for Ziva, and a deep love for her, too.  I thanked my friend for her kindness, and told her I'd think about it.  I wasn't serious.  I couldn't imagine giving up my dog, really.  My history shows that dogs I take on live with me until they die of old age.

The next morning I woke up with a jolt.  "YOU are an IDIOT!" is the thought that ran though my brain, in bold print.  Because, in reality, it was only a matter of time before a gate came down or a door was left open, and Ziva killed one of my little dogs, or, heaven forbid, a customers pet. Marion is a marvelous dog trainer and owner, and Ziva would have friends to play with at her place. She'd also have a job, because Marion has cattle and sheep and poultry to guard, and lots of land for big dogs to run and play.  And Dutchess, the Golden,, would rather enjoy pleasant sessions of fetch in the meadow and a soft bed by the woodstove.

So, I asked Marion if we could try a weekend swap.  Since she had taken care of Ziva any time we traveled over the last 3 years, it was an easy transition for my Cur to be dropped off for a fun filled visit.  Dutchess, however, was rather confused at first.  But she soon claimed the comfiest,squishiest beds in the house, and was overjoyed to discover I keep dog biscuits in my pockets, doling them out with little provocation.  The weekend swap has extended for months.

When Marion visits, Dutch is delighted to see her. When I go there, Ziva leaps and twists and kisses me on the lips, hard. (This makes my eyes leak a little. I miss her. However, I see that she is fine and happy and well cared for and in a place more suited to her personality than our house is.)   Both dogs seem perfectly contented to stay where they are.  Ziva is fit and happy, running with dogs her size, being a watch dog.  Dutch seems delighted, going from soft bed to soft bed, and cadging cookies. She may or may not have gained a little weight.  We play lively games of fetch and she happily snuggles the little dogs. It would never occur to her to bite a dog here to be groomed.  On the flip side, if robbers came, she'd show them where we keep the stuff we like the most.  But we have an open door policy, and no gates up.  Life is peaceful.

The great American dog swap was hard on my heart, and my ego. I feel I failed Ziva. I wasn't able to train her to be the best dog she could be here.  But in the end, she is fine, living a full Cur life with kind people who take good care of her. And Dutch is here, getting her belly rubbed, eating too much and soaking up the heat from the wood stove to the best of her capacity. Sometimes things don't work out as planned. But they do work out.

And every day, I am grateful to share our home with this sweet, gentle dog. And grateful that my beloved Ziva is safe and happy and cared for.  I had wished for something different, but am so happy for what I have.

Feeding in the snow...

 Despite my admonition to myself to "Think Spring," (see the chalkboard on the center shelf) today dawned with snow-filled skies.

No matter the weather, Chanel waits by the fence for me at breakfast time.
She polishes off her small ration of grain and supplements with gusto.
The goats are fond of breakfast, too.
After they have had their fill, one by one, they file to the heated water tub for a deep drink...
after that it was off to the to the shed. Goats do not love wet weather, but they did spend a fair amount of time looking out at the snow coming down. 

There was much activity at the bird feeders today. Morning doves, which some think are quite plain...
are truly lovely up close.  Their eye lids are an enchanting shade of blue, and in the right light their neck feathers are iridescent.

This little red breasted nuthatch donned a snowflake cap to celebrate the day...
Then tossed it off like yesterdays news.

As always, the chickadees were on hand to delight me with their antics and happy voices.
I spent much of the day feeding animals.  Part of it working.  The rest of it admiring the whirling white outside my window.  And now I will go rustle up some food for the humans who are coming in out of the storm. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Most of the snow on our property has melted. During the day, there are puddles for the ducks to dabble in, and they are happy.  The chickens have left the immediate confines of their coop and yard, and flow in a flock all over the pasture, pecking and scratching.  I don't know exactly what it is they find to eat, but their crops are bulging full when they go to roost at the end of the day, yet the level of pellets in their feeder does not seem to move.
When it is warm like it was today, the goats and horse seem to relish the sunshine. Watching them makes me realize that I should learn from them this lesson: embrace the moment.

This scene made me happy today.  Seeing the hoof stock all piled up together, enjoying the gift of the mild day and warm sun.

I love that they rest all piled up together, touching one another and sharing the bliss of the moment.
It is a joy to me to see how the animals here on this farmlett relate to one another.  If anyone thinks that animals don't have liaison's, I would tell them otherwise.  Even the chickens have preferences for which birds they roost with, which they explore with, which they eat with.

 The goats all cuddle up, too, when they rest.  It is easy to see how they relate as a herd.  Luna is the queen, and is always deferred to. When they play or rest, it is plain that there is a connection between them, and order to their relationships.

I love it when they all cuddle together to rest. And when the horse joins in, soaking up the sun, it just melts me.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Late winter...

As a rule, I don't really mind winter. However, in late January and February, I do long for some hint of spring. I try to remember to plant paper white narcissus.  Seeing them sprout, then watching them bloom, and smelling their sweet fragrance, is uplifting.

I've been enjoying them tremendously.  And then... my customer/friend brought me these beauties.

Fabulous orchids from her collection. She is downsizing and thought these would enjoy the light and humidity in my studio.  I think they are enchanting!

This guy came right up to the window and peered in. I think he enjoyed seeing the flowers blooming, too.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Oh those Silkies..!

People think chickens are dumb.  Having had chickens for 8 years, I have come to appreciate that they are much smarter than folks give them credit for.  At least, my layer breeds are.  These Silkies?  I am often astonished at just how dim they really are.

Yesterday was unseasonably warm, so I let them out of the coop.  During the cold and wet days we have been having, I have kept them locked up, because as I explained in an earlier post, they really are too stupid to come in out of the rain.

They flooded out of the coop like a herd of excited powder puffs.  Then, to my surprise they scooted through the fence and went out into the big pasture.  They climbed up the manure pile and scratched around, looking most gleeful.  All day they stayed out there, going much farther afield than they normally do.

As the sun moved lower in the sky I was very surprised to see that they were still out there.  I would have expected them to be headed back towards the coop. Chickens are quite insistent about sleeping on their own roost!

 I started my chores, locking up the ducks and the laying hens, all of which had tucked themselves into their respective homes.  I fed the rabbit and filled the goat and horse hay racks.  The little fluffy white birds were still pottering about.

It was then that it dawned on me.  Though only about 30 feet from their comfortable home, the Silkies were lost. In their excitement to be free they had wandered into unfamiliar territory and had no idea how to get home.  They seemed relieved when I scooped them up and carried them to the coop.  Long on cute, short of brains. It's ok, though, they earn their keep just by making me laugh. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Everyday miracles...

Leonie Dawson is an artist and motivator whose work inspires me.  This label on my antique Mason jar is her work. It says, "A jar for collecting everyday miracles."  The idea is to jot down terrific things that happen and stow them in a jar.  Then, at the end of the year, take time to look back at all the sweet, kind, happy moments that filled the past 365 days.

Today something jar-worthy happened, but I was sort of forbidden to write about it, lest I embarrass the person from whose largess I have benefited.  So let me just say this... my life is populated by kind, thoughtful, creative, GENEROUS people, and I expect I am going to need a bigger jar before the year is done.  In fact, I may need a wonderful, magical, big wheeled CART to haul all my everyday miracles about in.  And I'm not saying any more, lest I get in trouble. 

Except... THANK YOU! 

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Several years ago, when I bought our first goat, she came with a 3 day old buckling, (boy baby goat.) My husband named him Taco, a wry nod to the fact that he was probably going to be eaten.  It is hard to born male on a farm.  Male goats, in particular, are not wanted. Goat milk, goat cheese, goat soap, these things are all very popular right now. Goats must be bred to give birth and produce the milk that we use to make all that chevre and soap. Female baby goats go on to produce more milk, but the males?  They serve little purpose. That is, little purpose in the United States.

But world wide, goat meat is widely consumed.  In fact, outside of the U.S., it is one of the most commonly eaten red meats. So when we brought Luna, my new dairy goat, and Taco, her kid to the farm, I thought we should try some goat meat to see what we thought. At the local farmers market I bought some very small, very expensive goat chops. I brought them  home and carefully cooked them.

In all the years I have been married to my husband, I have cooked many tasty meals, and a few horrible ones. The goat chops?  They were the worst.  Chris, who ate even the bad meals I've cooked with grace and gratitude, couldn't stomach those chops.  We decided we didn't like goat meat, and found a wonderful pet home for little Taco.  I was just as glad. He was adorable.

Last spring Luna birthed twins, a boy and a girl, on April Fools Day. The female went to live on a friends farm, the little male stayed here a while, then went to another friends farm for the summer to keep her ram sheep company and eat brush. Then he came here for a bit. He was very cute and we liked him a lot, but he had horns, and keeping a horned goat with non-horned goats is not a good idea. Goats will butt heads, and a horned goat can seriously injure those that do not have horns.   I tried to sell him, with no luck.  My daughter took matters into her own hands, and took him to be turned into goat meat. I wanted nothing to do with it, I thought he was adorable. 

There has been a box of goat meat in the freezer for a few months now.  Chops, leg roasts, ribs.  We passed them by, reaching for ham steaks and beef roasts and fine roasting chickens.  Until tonight.  Rachel offered to cook supper and thawed some goat shanks.  I helped her find a recipe, and together we braised the shanks in the old, well loved pot given to us by my aunt Barbara for a wedding gift.

We added onions, garlic, wine and other things...

And let everything simmer for an hour or so.  It smelled delicious.

to our surprise and delight, it tasted wonderful, too.
The meat was tender and flavorful.  It is hard to describe, but it is a bit like beef, and a bit like lamb.  Not gamey.  We all liked it very much, and now we are looking forward to leg of goat, goat curry and more.

It may be co-incidence, but Rachel also picked up the goats head she had taken to the taxidermist today.  I wouldn't have done it, probably, but she was determined not to waste any of the animal who lost his life to nourish us.

 Dinner tonight was a bit of an adventure.  Who knows what adventure will come next?